Judging the Perth Royal Distilled Spirits Awards 2019

Recently I had the privilege of being invited to be one of lead judges at the Perth Royal Food Awards. This is a venerable institution with a history going back over 150 years.

This year, for the first time, they introduced an awards for distilled spirits open to any Australian distiller.

Having had a great experience earlier this year judging the New Zealand Craft Spirits Awards I was looking forward to lending support to this new event.

Western Australia, whilst a long way from the rest of Australia has long kicked goals when it comes to distilling with many of the early spirits in the current wave getting recognised around the world for their innovation and excellence.

Check on the number of wines also to be judged!

The structure of the awards was similar to other professionally run programs, and as a Panel Chair my role was to lead my team of fellow judges and we focused on gins and vodkas. Other teams judged the whiskies and other spirit categories. Later with the other Chairs we assessed the best of each style of spirit to determine the Champion Spirit for each categories.

The botanicals for each spirit were specified in our gin flights.

In case you think that it’s a great day out to be sipping spirits all day, be assured it’s a very serious business. You can have to concentrate on each element of the spirit in turn, with flights of four or more gins or vodkas that have to be assessed (no talking during this process), and scored across key criteria:

  • Colour / Appearance 10 points
  • Nose: 20 points
  • Palate: 40 points
  • Balance: 10 points
  • Finish: 20 points

Feedback notes against this criteria are also provided by each judge for the entrants. As we finished each section we then debriefed our scores and ensured that they provided a degree of consistency or that there was no unconscious bias creeping in.  All this has to be done quickly and efficiently as there were a lot of entries to get through on the day and short breaks enabled us to stay focused to do justice to each entry.

Of course we don’t know what we’re judging in terms of who made them, but each judge had a wide range of experience and some styles will resonate with one or not in terms of taste and preference.  Essentially, we were looking for excellence, flaws, and key characteristics for that particular style of spirit. So, whether its Pure or Flavoured Vodka, or Contemporary or a London Dry Gin Category, we were assessing the spirits in that context.

As it turned out, we didn’t award any Gold awards for Gins or Vodka’s this year – which required 90 points or over from the three judges, though plenty of Silver (82-89.9 points) and Bronze (74 to 81.9 points) were awarded.

To cap a very long day, I was asked to represent the judging team and do a live cross for the local Channel 9 station. This was great fun and I gave some pro-tips on making a great Gin and Tonic with the weather presenter, and didn’t embarrass the awards or myself in the 3 minute slot.

Absolutely exhausted after all that, it was an early night for me after a quiet drink watching the spectacular Indian Ocean sunset and I’m looking forward to returning next year.

You can read the results of the Awards in 2019-CiderDistilled-Spirits-Results-Catalogue-A4-WEB-1.